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Analyzing the Army's Recruiting Future

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Laurence Korb joins us now. He's a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He's also a former assistant secretary of Defense for manpower.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. LAURENCE KORB (Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress): Nice to be with you.

BLOCK: And, Mr. Korb, would you say the all-volunteer Army is in trouble? And if it is, how serious is it?

Mr. KORB: Well, the all-volunteer total Army, which is active and Reserve, is in a lot of trouble because, as was just pointed out, yes, the Army had a good month in June and July, but their numbers that they were trying to get don't make up for the fact that they didn't meet their goals from February through May. And, of course, the Guard and Reserve are not even meeting their monthly goals. And for the Army, as opposed to the other services, the Guard and the Reserve--what we call the Reserve component--is actually larger than the active. So it's much more critical for the Army Reserves to be meeting their goals, as well.

BLOCK: We just heard a lieutenant colonel with the National Guard talk about the difficulty of recruiting when you're fighting what he called a `hot war.' Can the country, can the United States, fight a sustained ground war in Iraq and in Afghanistan with an all-volunteer Army if those wars are growing unpopular, increasingly unpopular?

Mr. KORB: Well, that's the problem. It's not just that the war is going on for a long time. The fact of the matter is that Americans no longer--a majority no longer think it was worth the cost for what we got because the main reasons that we gave for the war turned out not to be correct, as well as the--we were left with the impression that it would be over very, very quickly; we'd be greeted as liberators. And since those things didn't come true, you have a lot of parents discouraging children who might join the service from going in.

Since you've overused, in many ways, the Guard and Reserve, a lot of the active people who normally would go into the Guard and Reserve are not doing it 'cause they don't want to get shipped right back to Iraq. And so what's happened is the Guard and Reserve and the actives are all competing for the small number of young people out there whose parents are not encouraging them to join.

BLOCK: Well, what are some possible solutions here, would you say? If there are these military shortfalls, what would you suggest?

Mr. KORB: Well, I think that what has to happen is the president needs to become the chief recruiter. And I think he needs to go before the American people and say, `Well, whether or not you agree with me on going to Iraq, here's why we can't leave. And in addition to asking young people to join this cause, I'm going to, you know, put a surtax on people making maybe more than $100,000 so that everybody will join in this sacrifice.' Other than that, you just have to hope that within the next six months to a year you cut down the number of troops in Iraq. And if you can do that, then, of course, the pressure will ease.

BLOCK: They've also talked about increasing bonuses for people in certain highly valued slots within the military. Is that a good idea?

Mr. KORB: Well, I think that's one thing you can do, because if you've joined the infantry, for example, counting what you get for, you know, reimbursement for college and the bonuses, if Congress approves, it'll be over $100,000, and certainly that will appeal to certain people.

But again, if you look at the data, the interesting thing is the number of minorities, many of whom are poor, are not joining to the extent that they did in the past; this particularly true among African-Americans.

BLOCK: There's been a lot of talk alongside these shortfalls in the recruiting that we've been hearing about that the overall size of the military needs to be increased. So how do you do that in this context?

Mr. KORB: Well, this is a very, very difficult environment. The Army that we sent into Iraq, given what we were doing in Afghanistan, among other commitments around the world, was just too small to carry out the president's strategy. And so you needed a bigger Army. And now when people are recognizing that, it becomes difficult to recruit more. I mean, the Army, even with doing well the last two months, will probably miss its recruiting goal this year by 7 or 8,000 people on the active side and a corresponding number on the Guard and Reserve. And if you want to increase the size of the Army, you should be taking in about 100,000 people. Had we done this right after September 11th, 2001, I think we could have done it if the president had, you know, talked about the--`We're at war now. I'm going to ask young people to come in. I'm going to increase the size of the Army and ask other Americans to make a sacrifice.' But that opportunity, you know, was not taken.

BLOCK: Laurence Korb, thanks very much.

Mr. KORB: Nice to be with you.

BLOCK: Laurence Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former assistant secretary of Defense for manpower. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.